Purchase students will meet with New Orleans officials from Jan. 3-8, as part of a special Center for the Living City collaboration with Purchase College in which nine students will tour the city to observe and report on different aspects of the current conditions. Coordinators of the program are Roberta Gratz and Stephen Goldsmith, co-founders of the Center of the Living City. Goldsmith is a former affordable housing developer and city planning director. Gratz is an urban critic, award-winning journalist, observer of cities and author of two highly regarded books on urban development issues, will discuss “Cities Rebuilt, Cities Reborn: Is There a Difference?”
The goal of this first collaboration between the Center for the Living City and Purchase College is to study the organic city in all its rich complexity of institutions and people. The newly formed Center was inspired by the work of journalist, activist and urbanist Jane Jacobs with whom Center founders have been collaborating. The Center’s primary mission is to enhance the level of communication about city building issues.
Students will meet with residents of the various parishes in New Orleans and members of the environmental, social, and economic communities. They will learn to ask informed questions about human rights and other pressing urban issues in order to convey more complete information about urban issues to a wide audience.
“Reporting on urban development issues in the daily press—print, radio, TV and internet—is limited by most reporters’ understanding of how cities function,” says Dr, Jonathan Levin, Dean of the School of Humanities at Purchase College and an organizer of the program. “Cities are complex organisms in which each part is connected and dependent on the next. Rarely, however, are they written about in a holistic way. Transportation and traffic is seldom connected to neighborhood’s character. Stories about stadiums, convention centers and other grand projects rarely reveal what the city’s economy is about. Planning and design issues are mostly covered as battles between local stakeholders (most frequently referred to as NIMBY’s—not in my backyard) and city officials, but the larger context is lost,” he said.
According to Dr. Levin, “No better way exists to observe, understand and report on the connected parts that add up to a whole city than to look at a city when it has become totally disconnected.”
“New Orleans was a fascinating, traditionally urban city before Katrina. Its essential urbanism is still visible. It retained many of the connected pieces other cities have demolished for highways, urban renewal projects and other big plans. As one resident noted, this fabled city is like Humpty Dumpty after his great fall,” he said.
“Observing the post-Katrina city,” says Dr, Levin “recognizing the disconnections, understanding the dilemmas of putting it back together, hearing the stories of the people living this unthinkable drama, all makes for interesting stories. Student will have opportunities to observe and report on the current circumstances.”